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tv   [untitled]    June 9, 2012 10:30pm-11:00pm EDT

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perhaps you would like to look over what i have, what i have been writing. that is to say a functional man, efficient, utterly with pretense, dressed always in the uniform of a private soldier with only the shoulder straps of a major general to distinguish his rank. within five months he had been brought east as we awe know by the president given his commission as lieutenant general, the first in our history since general washington. and established as commander of all of the union armies at that time, aggregating close to 600,000. he elects to make his own headquarters with the army of the potomac, then, initially, stationed, his headquarters at culpeper not far north of the river. his conversations with president lincoln and what they disclose of each man's notions of what needs to be done disclose a relationship between head of government and military
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commander far more suited before them than the relationship between his great rival and jefferson davis. each man senses the other's confidence in him. their exchanges are easy and direct. though lincoln is capable of a kind of harmless disingenuousness when he writes things to grant such as your plans i neither know nor seek to know. he doesn't really mean that. and grant extremely subordinate by nature knows it. the army of the potomac, under grant's own subordinate. george meade, will continue. will continue to be led by mead. he is both touched and reassured by grant any display of confidence in him. i am reminded because i have
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been looking recently at the second world war and its aftermath of harry truman's expectation that george marshall will quote, clean up, unquote, the state department. marshall like grant does nothing of the kind. his instinct is to walk in, find out what its good in the organization, and reward it rather than, of course, this was a tk tech knee of grant's. the campaign-- the army of the potomac's campaign, according to one grant biographer was quote, a hideous disaster in every respect save one." it worked. it was in the military strategy, in the wilderness, an affair of nightmarish inhumanity, inept military strategy that ranks one of the worst such episodes in our history of national warfare. to soldiers of the two next generations when they were searching for comparisons of the agony of war and the argon forest in 1918, and in the hertgen forest in the fall and
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winter of '44/'45, they thought immediately of the wilderness. you must permit me to say also to this audience, because look so many of our fellow americans, we are drawn to the civil war and to the second world war. but we forget what the country was up to in 1917, 1918. think abut these numbers just for a moment. in the seven weeks of the battle of the argon, we lost 26,500 killed, and 110,000 wounded. somehow, that war tends to escape our attention and as it escapes our own attention it escapes that of our students. john will earth bennett, great historian of the army, who
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cherished a powerful affection for virginia and for the confederacy and for the civil war remarked there are two fundamental staples of successful military generalship. one of them is what he called military strategic genius which we impugn and know that was possessed. and the other what willer bennett said the ability to rally an army in defeat. he meant something larger than that. he meant something which communicated itself to an army, a confidence, faith, the certitude that they're going to succeed, intellect, and character both. ulysses grant did what he had to do. he understood the costs and he accepted them. i told my friend, bud robertson, that i had never forgotten and none of you will ever forget the story of the union soldiers the night before cold harbor. i can imagine no more poignant
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testimonial than what we ask of 18-year-old and 19-year-old people when we send them to war. grant was an imperturbable man. he had schooled and trained and educated himself to absorb and accept whatever his experience threw at him. he was a product of his own conscious manufacturer and lifelong surveillance. this is a very victorian virtue. we don't hatch it much in the united states anymore. young people, adolescence, and the case of grant, let's say, 13, 14, 15 years old, you may know people like this who decide what they want to be when they grow older. i don't mean what profession or what possessions or what prestige or what celebrity, but what they want to be like. very victorian virtue. and like general lee grant
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embodied that. and he inspirited, he infused that spirit throughout his army. demonstrating that character in mind need not be considered as distinct qualities. i have heard many lectures and so have you about character and mind as though they are two separate things. they're not. there is a hinterland between the two where character penetrates intellectual acuity and vice versa. and the great generals all seemed to have, seemed to have had that. hence the, although a mediocre student at west point, comma, phrase. incidentally, grant at west point was an average student. just before his first class year he was promoted to the grade of cadette sergeant. as he noted in his memoirs, quote, "it was too much for me" and he fell back to the ranks of cadet privates.
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like many cadets, he didn't work very hard. but he tells us in an interesting aside, i found myself reading novels. unusual thing to admit you were doing in the 1840s. he says not novels of a trashy sort, but works by james cooper and bowart linton and men of that stamp. if you will endure one last anecdote, you know the story about james fen more cooper and his wife. james cooper was a lawyer by training living in upstate new york he married a beautiful young girl, the young girl said to cooper, just before the wedding, each month she receives four novels from london. and i read them before deciding you that they're appropriate for her to see. and i hope you, after you are married, will perform the same office. cooper said, yes, sir, i certainly will. and having read the first of
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them, cooper, said, hell, i can write better than this. apparently a true story. in subsiding, i must say that if you want to look seriously at ulysses s. grant and get a real sense of what he was look, you must read the memoirs. the story of the writing of the memoirs which itself has made an important book in the last couple of years, he is dying of cancer, he is literally destitute, and he knows that his memoirs because his friend mark twain has told him this, if they are well done will leave behind not only a reputation, which is a sterling reputation, but also provide for his family. the advice once again that mark twain gives john haye, facts and fixes will cooperate loyalty together for the protection of the reader. the memoirs are full of mag nan
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must comments about old friends and adversaries and one of my favorite has to do with general jackson. grant like so many is on record having said, if he had been at west point five years instead of four years he would have graduated at the head of the class. he admired general jackson. he liked general jackson. he was a fine officer, a brilliant conception in great bravery and then elipsis, had a lot of elipsis in there, of course he never had to deal with me or sherman. those kinds of comments. thank you very much. [ applause ] first, on a personal note, i would look to express my
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disappointment that professor joan wild who was originally scheduled to make this presentation had to cancel out at the last moment. i am sure the depth of her presentation will far exceed the feeble comments i'm going to make. in addition, asking a virginian to comment impartially on ulysses grant -- is akin to -- to casting jane fonda in the lead in a movie about mother theresa. [ applause ] >> but we will give it a shot. in washington, d.c., the third year of the civil war, began in an atmosphere of uncertainty. union victories in the west had inflicted an erosive dismemberment of the confederate states beyond the appalachian range.
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in 1864, the war and much more publicized eastern theater remained a stalemate. the army of the potomac at the time was by no means defeated or submissive mood, some 100,000 soldiers were wintering in the largest encampment of the war. is the military compound stretched over a ten square mile marked by three stumps, dead horses and thousand of crows flying overhead. yet victory at gettysburg the previous july had given the union army a heritage and new found enthusiasm. for the first time soldiers were writing regimental histories. all of them were drilling hard said one captain and they showed it. they were trim and hard as nails. on the other hand this army had been immobile for months along
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the north bank of the rapadan river. simply because of robert e. lee's brilliance as an army engineer. using high-heel strongly laces with artillery positions lee had made a fortress that could not be attacked. well at least the general leading the union army felt that way. george g. meade was the only ugly commander the army of the potomac ever had, tall, skinny, heavy bearded, hooked nose with an uncontrollable temper that caused officers to refer to him as a damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle. mead was a better listener than a talker. in 1863, a new yorker wrote, nearly everyone in the army from the highest to the lowest have lost all confidence in general mead as a fighting man.
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but we all have the greatest confidence in his ability to keep us out of the way of the rebels. the army's marshall put it more bluntly. i cannot make out these plans. because he cannot make them out himself. thus, the start of 1864 found the war continuing. with no turning point in sight. as usual, congressmen talked much, said little, did nothing. but the year was critical, a presidential election loomed in november, emancipation was still in its first steps, war weariness in the north might well be checked and the lincoln administration in favor of a negotiated peace. in short, the very fate of the union hung in the balance. as early as january, feelings were strong as someone outside politics might be good, a good presidential nominee. james gordon bennett of the new york herald went so far as to assert the next president must be a military man.
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no such figure of prominence existed in the eastern theater, but out west, a general who had gained spectacular victories at vicksburg and chattanooga was there. his name was ulysses grant. president abraham lincoln was well aware of grant's fighting prowess and his victories. lincoln now wanted him in washington, not as a chief executive, but as general and chief of all the armies. first, however, the president did a little background check. lincoln once observed you know when the presidential grub once gets into a man it can gnaw deeply and we are seeing that now with these political campaigns. indeed, joseph hooker, mead's predecessor had once talked open leap of the need for military dictatorship. lincoln's concern about grant, however, quickly vanished when he read a january letter grant stated flatly i am not a
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politician, never was, never hoped to be. nothing could induce me to think of being a presidential candidate, particularly so long as there is a possibility of having mr. lincoln re-elected. and with that assurance in hand, lincoln ordered grant east to the capital. he would be a lieutenant general. a rank only the sainted george washington had held. on tuesday afternoon, march 8, grant in washington from his nashville headquarters accompanying him his 13-year-old son, fred, and two staff officers. through some mix-up, nobody met grant's train he had to make his way to willard's hotel unescorted. the national capital with its crowds of ambitious, greedy men were instantly repulsive to grant. however he himself hardly qualified as imposing. the modern, popular view of grant is that of the quintessential american, the
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hero of the republic, the simple son of a tanner who entered west point reluctantly. he fought personal problems after being driven from the army but found himself in a magnificent way, and led the union forces to victory and the civil war. in late winter 1864, however, grant hardly looked the part of a supreme army commander. 5'7", weighing 135 pounds, grant struck one observer as, quote, an ordinary scrubby little man with a slightly seedy look as if he was out of office on half-pay. he had no gait, no station, no manner. a massachusetts officer thought grant mild, unobtrusive, modest, and naturally silent. many in that generation of army officers accustomed to napoleonic postures regarded grant as little more than a man
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ui heat in shoulder straps. even a female visitor to the capital found a peculiar aloofness in grant, and commented, he always seemed to be alone. the registration clerk at willard's hotel that march 8th was not impressed when a travel stained officer appeared before him. the clerk offered a small room on the top floor. grant silently nodded his head and signed the registration book, u.s. grant and son, galina, illinois. a flustered, now fawning clerk reassigned grant to the finest suite in the hotel as the quiet lobby changed into a beehive of talking and pointing. shortly after settling into his room, the general received an invitation to meet with the president that evening. unknown to grant, the lincolns were having one of their usual weekly receptions that night at the white house. reports circulated that grant would be there so the crowd was larger than usual. around 9:00 p.m., grant made the
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short walk from willard's to the presidential mansion in expectation of a quiet conference with his commander-in-chief. instead, the lincolns were greeting guests one by one in the blue room when grant arrived. the president who towered over the general by eight inches, greeted him warmly. so much excitement followed, the secretary of state william seward herded the crowd into the east room. grant, a dignitary responded, blushed like a school girl. his discomfort increased when seward insisted grant stand on a sofa so everyone could get a better look at him. a newspaper man wrote disgustingly, it was the only real mob i ever saw in the white house. for once the president of the united states was not the chief figure in the picture. instead that little, scad looking man who stood on the crimson-colored sofa was the idol of the hour.
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and when at last he escaped the newspaperman said, grant was flushed, heated and perspiring with the unwanted exertion. the next afternoon, grant met with lincoln and the cabinet. the president officially announced the appointment as lieutenant general in charge of all union forces. grant's response was a far cry from the bombastic pronouncements of earlier commanders george mcclelland and joseph hooker. grant thanked lincoln for the high honor. i feel the full weight of responsibilities devolving on me, it will be my earnest endeavor not to disappoint your expectations and that was it. grant's stay in washington was also short. he agreed to have a photograph taken. he bailed out of an evening social affair, planned in his honor. and he headed south to get his first view of the army of the potomac. grant was figuratively and literally alone when he arrived at army headquarters.
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no one knew him personally. he faced an officer corps of strangers more intrigued than inspired.stern, unfamiliar figure now in charge. new york colonel charles wainwright thought grant stumpy, unmilitary, slouchy, western-looking, very ordinary, in fact. grant mead's chief of staff considered grant possessed 6 a great deal of rough dignity. and he added, "he wears an expression as if he it determined to drive his head through a brick wall and was about to do it." one of the grant's first uncertainties on that initial visit to the army was whether or not to keep george meade at the head of it. the pennsylvanian surprised grant. he immediately volunteered to relinquish command without a murmur if grant wished to put sherman or another westerner in charge of the army.
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meade added that he would gladly serve to the best of his ability in any position that the general in chief might desire. that humbling offer "grant wrote, "gave me a more favorable opinion of meade than his great victory at gettysburg." meade would remain in charge of the army. beside sherman could not be spared from the west. meade would be treated, as grant continued, as he treated all commanders. he, grant, would set the broad objectives of a campaign and stay away from what he called the minutia of command. initially meade grumbled that grant was probably going to get all the credit when his successes in that spring campaign, and yet meade was soon telling his wife that he cheerfully would give grant "all credit if he can bring the war to a close." i think this statement deserves a moment of historical attention. "willing to give grant all credit."
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of the five commanders of the army of the potomac and its antecedent, only george meade accepted second place and worked so devotedly in a subordinate position. it is inconceivable that irvin mcdowell, george mcclellan, ambrose burnside, or joseph hooker would have willingly given the cooperation that meade tendered for the rest of the war. from their first meeting grant and meade sensed that they could work well together. mutual warmth and respect between the two officers was a major factor behind union successes in virginia in the last year of the war. in mid march grant returned briefly to the west. he had by then made a number of principled decisions. one, it was impossible to command all of the northern military forces from west of the mountains. nor was the capital an alternative. grant had been shocked when he
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first arrived in washington to find a congressional investigating committee still conducting sessions on why lee eight months earlier was not pursued with more vigor after gettysburg. grant's friend general sherman told him for god's sake and for your country's sake come out of washington. as for members of congress, sherman later wrote his brother, "i hope grant will make it a death penalty for one of those guys to go south of the potomac." no, grant concluded early that he would travel with the army of the potomac. not only would his presence shield it from meddle some political intrusion from washington. grant also knew that lincoln had not been pleased with meade's cautious leadership. meade was a solid and conscientious soldier but neither he nor any of his predecessors had been able to make the army fight with a killer instinct. part of grant's mission,
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therefore, was to instill western tenacity and bearing into an army that had woefully lacked both so far in the struggle. now, negative reaction followed grant's appointment as general in chief. naturally there was the envy and jealousy of fellow officers. his success, the critics were saying, had come in the west where the eastern elite believed a general could make a reputation without doing much. and general john pope was a lingering evidence of that axiom. in addition, grant appeared to some critics to have stumbled his way to success. he was a lucky amateur in his baptismal engagement at belmont, missouri. the u.s. navy gave him the much publicized victory at fort henry. con fed ratd ineptitude overrode grant's blunders at fort donaldson and forfeited victory. at shiloh he was caught napping
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and came dangerously close to a crushing defeat. his losses at holly springs, mississippi in december 1862 were inexcusable. the first assault at vikzburg was a costly mistake. his failure to pursue general joseph johnston's army after the fall of vicksburg recalled meade's inner shah after gettysburg. the victories at chattanooga might well have come more from bragg's bungling than from grant's strategy. and now he was facing the best the south had to offer. robert e. lee and the army of northern virginia. this would be an entirely new ball game. one officer who quickly dismissed such reasoning was confederate general james longstreet. old pete knew grant well. he had been his best man at his wedding. long street warned those who would listen that man will fight us every day and every hour till the end of the war. as for grant facing the already legendary lee, the "new york
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times" asked rhetorically, that is true enough but do these people ever think that if it be true grant has never fought lee it is equally true that lee has never met grant. by march 27th, grant had established his field headquarters at culpepper. he was near but not next to the army of the potomac, a decision of his choosing. his war aims in the forthcoming campaign were twofold. first, grant announced to use the greatest number of troops practicable against the armed forces of the enemy. secondly to hammer continuously against the enemy and his resources until by mere attrition, if in no other way there should be nothing left to him but surrender. in other words, grant was going to strike everywhere at one time. he was convinced, he said, that in the past the various union armies had acted independently
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and without concert like a bulky team of mules, no two ever pulling together. this allowed confederates to share troops from one point to another to meet the most pressing demand and danger, and that was no longer to be the case. sherman in the west with two armies would drive southeastward toward the army of tennessee and atlanta. another union army under nathaniel bikes would move out of new orleans and advance on mobile, alabama. meanwhile, the major union effort would come in virginia. and grant's strategy was there -- in virginia was complex but relatively simple. he was not going to conduct a water-based campaign such as mclellan's mismanaged affair two years earlier. grant now had multiple targets in mind. all designed to destroy lee's army before it could take cover in the sophisticated defenses of
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richmond. simultaneous offensive by several federal armies would also prevent the confederates from reinforcing one another at any threatened point. and since lee could not counter a threat from every direction, grant designed offensive moves from four directions. general benjamin butler and his army of the james would come up river from norfolk toward petersburg and the underbelly of the confederate capital. a second force under general franz siegel would destructively sweep southward up the shenandoah valley then turn east toward the piedmont junction of lynchburg. while this was occurring a third union column would advance from west virginia through the mountains and through southwestern virginia and sever the virginia and tennessee railroad, the confederacy's only rail link with the west. the major push would be, of course, the army of the potomac.
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grant told meade, lee's army will be your objective point. wherever lee goes there you will go also. meade's army would hammer straight ahead, unrelentingly. at some point lee would be in the open and subject to attack from one or more of the invading forces. now grant left no doubt that the confederate army, not the confederate capital was to be the major objective of this 1864 campaign. the internal operations of the armies he left to the commanders to handle. yet from start to end, grant encouraged and supported aggressive action. union forces would manifest active rather than reactive conduct. with somewhere near a half million combat-ready troops, grant would be leading the largest host any american officer had ever had. he would put every army he had on the move.


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